Inconsistent Rampage Look To Tighten Up Down the Stretch

Rowe

Photo by Darren Abate

Rampage head coach Tom Rowe must be getting the tweezers out with regularity since the calender flipped over to 2015.

Rowe can’t yank what little hair he has on his head, since he’s been clean shaven upstairs for years, so if he were to resort to such tactics, it would most likely be because he’s unaware which team will come through the dasherboard at the end of the rink on a given night. Yes, the Rampage are 12-8-1 since January 1 and are holding their own in the Western Conference standings, but the inconsistency has to be absolutely infuriating.

Rowe has to hope his team never scores eight goals in a game again or play Toronto after they do.
After skating circles around former nemesis Utica in upstate New York to start the New Year with an eight ball, the Rampage came up short the next night in Toronto, 3-2. A week later, San Antonio comes home and clobbers Iowa, 8-3, only to lose again the next day to the Marlies without scoring a goal, a 3-0 loss.

The Rampage beat Texas on a Tuesday three weeks ago, 5-2, only to lose in Cleveland two nights later, 6-2. They ended January with a couple of wins against the Stars and Charlotte Checkers with the modest streak reaching three straight after another Rocco Grimaldi special, a 3-2 overtime win over Texas – Grimaldi’s third OT winner this year.

Then, nobody showed up against Texas as the suddenly resurgent defending Calder Cup champs–who have put together a 7-1-1-1 mark over the last 10 games before Wednesday night’s loss to Utica– beat the Rampage 6-1 to start the rodeo road trip in a game Rowe called the worst he’s seen since he arrived in Nov. 2013. The two sloppy starts vs the Stars sandwiched a feel-good, 5-3 win over the, then AHL best, Oklahoma City Barons. But honestly, you take that three-goal outburst in the third period out of the equation, and the Rampage haven’t had a 60-minute complete effort until Wednesday morning in Rockford.

Following the return to “Cedar Park Center Beatings” last Tuesday, the team came up with another gutsy 5-4 win in Grand Rapids – an overtime win, but it came after frittering away a two-goal lead in the third period. And yes, Grimaldi provided the fireworks with the OT winner, number 4.

A couple of close losses in GR and Rockford–after the offense took the nights off except for Connor Brickley, who scored all three Rampage goals in the two contests–and a Rampage fan’s patience began to wear thin.

Then Wednesday, goaltender Michael Houser showed Florida execs why they need to keep him in their plans, even if his name is toward the end of the playbook, with a 37-save shutout performance against the IceHogs.

Heaven knows I don’t want to clamor against this hockey team. They have won more games at this time of the season than any other Rampage team. They have Bobby Butler in the top-10 in scoring — a positive departure from the typical lack of the SA abbreviation in that stat category. Butler is tied for fifth with 44 points and is the first bonafide Rampage scorer since Ottawa’s Kyle Turris skated rings around opponents five years ago.

Rampage rookies also have their names at the top of stat lists, with Brickley leading the league in goals for first year players–an astounding stat when one considers Brickley scored 21 in four years at the University of Vermont. Grimaldi is tied for fifth in rookie scoring with 32 points – five regulation goals to go along with his four OT clinchers.

Teamwise, the Rampage’s 68 second period goals is the best, by far, of any team in any one period, outdistancing OKC in the middle session by 10 markers. Overall, the Rampage have the highest scoring team in the AHL at 3.26 red lights per game, which is slightly ahead of the 3.20 goals per game being scored by the NHL’s leading goal scoring team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Their 167 goals for (GF) is the most in the league as well. But it’s the next column that could be the Achilles heel…GA – Goals Against. It shows 159. To compare, the team with the best record in the league has allowed only 110. That’s a ton of rubber left outside the goal in Manchester, New Hampshire (soon to be Ontario, California).

The goaltending will have to tighten up for a post-season run, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Dan Ellis is second in the league with 22 wins, but that’s more due to the Rampage outscoring opponents. Ellis’ 2.66 goals against doesn’t qualify for the top 20 in the league. Ellis has been the king of WHEN the save is made rather than the QUANTITY of saves made. Overall, Ellis has shined in crunch time, otherwise SA is battling Iowa for the worst team in the league.

That’s the conundrum for Tom Rowe and this Rampage club…(always wanted to use that big word in a story)…which team will skate onto the ice on any given night? Can the team continue to win games with 22-minute efforts? Will the netminding survive the post-season pressure? Will the team be kept in place by the parent Panthers at the trade deadline?

Unless the Panthers rip the team up at the trade deadline, and unless the team continues following up impressive wins with uninspired efforts, this Rampage team has the steam to roll in the playoffs. This is a strong club that’s been fun to watch. The win over OKC in the Pink in the Rink game showed the 13,000+ in the seats just how exciting hockey can be.

But will it be enough? Stay tuned.

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